Tag: Alabama

One Down, 49 To Go: Carol Highsmith’s Images of Alabama Now Online at the Library of Congress

I first wrote about Carol Highsmith two years ago when I asked, Is Carol M. Highsmith the Most Generous Artist of Our Time? after coming across her archive at the  Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs Online Catalog and learning that eventually she will have provided the public an estimated 100,000 images for their personal, educational, or commercial use — all for the price of a credit line.

Then last year I told you Carol Highsmith was in Alabama, working on a project for the Library of Congress, the 21st Century America Collection. Her goal is to document in digital images life in each state so that future generations will have an idea of what America was like in the first decades of this century. She was able to get going on this project because of the generosity of businessman and philanthropist George F. Landegger, who funded the Alabama collection.

Carol spent much of 2010 traveling over 20,000 miles up, down, across, and around the state of Alabama, and now the George F. Landegger Alabama Library of Congress Collection is completed and up for your viewing at the Library of Congress.

Now Carol is hard at work with the 21st Century America Foundation, Inc., a “priority initiative” of the Library of Congress, looking for funding to get to work on her next state. Which one remains to be seen, but I’ll let you know as soon as I can. Meanwhile, time for the pictures.

Credit lines for each image should read: The George F. Landegger Collection of Alabama Photographs in Carol M. Highsmith’s America, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

The Alabama Theatre was built in 1927 by Paramount Studios in Birmingham, Alabama as a showcase for Paramount films.



Generosity in 21st Century America: Carol Highsmith and the George F. Landegger Alabama Collection

At the end of March, I told you that photographer Carol Highsmith was in Alabama, working on a project for the Library of Congress, the 21st Century America Collection. Her goal is to document in digital images life in each state so that future generations will have an idea of what America was like in the first decades of this century. These images will be copyright free, donated to the Library of Congress and placed in the public domain (see Is Carol M. Highsmith the Most Generous Artist of Our Time?).

Now I can show you what Carol Highsmith has been doing these past weeks. Make  a detour over to 21st Century Alabama, where you’ll find over 200 of the 4,000 images she’s making (and remember, she arrived in February, just weeks ago: this woman works).  Later this year, probably late summer, you’ll be able to find the George F. Landegger Alabama Collection on the Library of Congress site, as well.  The photos in this post are a few examples from her Alabama shoots.


Why is it called the George F. Landeggar Alabama Collection?  And who is George F. Landeggar?

Don’t assume that Carol started this massive project in Alabama because it comes first in an alphabetized list of US states: you would be wrong.

She’s in Alabama because of the generosity of George F. Landegger, who is funding the Alabama collection. I did a little googling and discovered that Landegger is, like Carol Highsmith, an admirably generous man.


Bessemer, AL Public Library: If You Are 17, Bring a Guardian

Today I paid my first and what I hope will be my last visit to the town of Bessemer, Alabama, 12  miles southwest of Birmingham. I visited its public library and was appalled before I walked through the door. Oh, it’s a lovely site, perhaps the nicest in town. The 1908  building dates from the town’s era of  prosperity, long before its iron ore deposits were depleted and its steel mills closed. Inside and out, the Bessemer Public Library looks fully restored and refurbished, inviting, and yes, even prosperous, in a near-dead downtown bordered on every side by dilapidation and grime.

On the library’s pristine door is a stern announcement.

No one under the age of 18 is admitted without a guardian. No exceptions.

Can you imagine? I’ve seen other library policies asking that children under say 10 not be left alone routinely for extended periods at the library, or that pre-schoolers be accompanied by a parent or guardian.

But this is quite different, isn’t it?

Every summer afternoon when I was 12 I went to the library, alone, and shelved books for a couple of hours, and when I was a teen, my parents often dropped me at the library’s door on Saturday mornings. I don’t remember either ever coming in with me. Nothing unusual about that. Of course, I wasn’t living in Bessemer in 2009.

Why do people put up with this? Can this be legal?

Let’s have a look at Bessemer for the answers.

This is what City-Data.com tells us (2007):

  • Median household income below state average. [And keep in mind that Alabama came in 47th in the nation for median income.]
  • Median house value significantly below state average.
  • Black race population percentage significantly above state average.
  • Hispanic race population percentage significantly below state average.
  • Foreign-born population percentage significantly below state average.
  • Institutionalized population percentage above state average.
  • Percentage of population with a bachelor’s degree or higher significantly below state average.

Unemployment in June 2009 was 15.5%; the local paper estimates that 30% may truly be out of an income, if those whose benefits have run out, or who are underemployed are taken into account.

A couple of comments come to mind:

  • Who wants to bet that you would never see this policy in a predominantly white community with an income at or above state average?
  • And while such a policy would be wrong any place, is it not especially reprehensible and outrageous that it exists in the only public library within an impoverished town? The next closest library is 4.4 miles away.
  • What does the — who? — city council? mayor? library trustees? library administration? — think that the under 18s are going to do to their library? Mind you, there is a security guard at the door. Why? To make sure that a 17-year-old doesn’t sneak in? He watches the entrance door, it seems to me, not the interior of the library.

I wanted to see if I could find any references to the Bessemer policy online. No luck, but I did learn:

  • that its director was fired this last month
  • that the front page of  the July 22, 2009 Western Tribune (the local paper) featured a photo of  a man sprawled asleep in a chair under the headline, “Bessemer Library’s Problems Continue. Troubled director goes AWOL as basement floods;  top staff member sleeps on the job”
  • that in 2007 a part-time bookkeeper was charged with embezzling $400,000 from the library but died before the case went to trial.

I live more than a 100 miles from Bessemer, and I am not a resident of Jefferson County, so I’m not in a position to badger its board live and in person. But that doesn’t mean I’m finished with this talk.